Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Bob Dylan (Rock/Confessional)
Ipod Choice: Most of the Time (Sony, 1989)

By the late 1980s a lot of folks - including Bob Dylan himself - felt he was washed up as a songwriter. Beginning in 1981, a disappointing run of albums - Shot of Love, Empire Burlesque, Knocked Out Loaded, Down in the Groove - had received almost universally negative reviews. Depressing times for Dylan fans.

Then came 1989’s miraculous Oh Mercy. As with 1975’s Blood on the Tracks, Dylan rediscovered his artistic core by invoking the demons of heartache and loss. Filled with frank examinations of his own moral worth, and elevated by one of the most sympathetic productions on any Dylan album (courtesy of the estimable Daniel Lanois), the record was a triumph for America's greatest songwriter. Meanwhile a grateful public rewarded him with his best sales in years.

For me, one of the great songs of Dylan’s late career renaissance - and a highlight of Oh Mercy - is the marvellous Most of the Time, a meditation on irreconcilable regret and endurance. Anyone who has known the pain of a separation can find themselves in this song.

Most of the Time's gorgeous swampy sound reflects the fact that it was recorded in a turn of the century New Orleans mansion with a sensitive, restrained band. Dylan’s wisely sad vocal, delivered over a luxuriant wash of ambient guitars and weary drums, perfectly complements the lyric as bitterness and self-recrimination are held - only just - at bay.

An agony of experience is contained in each line: “Most of the time, she ain’t even in my mind/I wouldn’t know her if I saw her,” then “Don’t even remember what her lips felt like on mine."

If there is anything more heartbreaking than that, I don’t know where I’ve heard it.

Most of the time we manage to kid ourselves - and everyone else – that we are sure-footed and invulnerable. But in the quietest moments the darkness can no longer be held back. It's then that the majesty of great art provides a bulwark against cold reality.

I once hurt someone I loved very deeply. There’s no turning back now, and I don’t know if I'll ever find true consolation. All I do know is that Most of the Time rings beautifully, bitterly true with me. Perhaps that's because in each line I hear the voice of an artist who steadfastly refuses to cheat himself - in his art, at least - even if he has cheated others in pursuit of his own revelations.

Read the lyrics to Most of the Time here.